Bos and Middlebrook elected Senior Members of SPIE

ECE Profs. Jeremy Bos (L) and Christopher Middlebrook
ECE Profs. Jeremy Bos (L) and Christopher Middlebrook

ECE Assistant Professor Jeremy Bos and Associate Professor Christopher Middlebrook have been elected to the grade Senior Member of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics. Each year SPIE recognizes accomplishments and meritorious service in the optics, photonics, optoelectronics, and imaging communities. The ECE Department congratulates Bos and Middlebrook for this prestigious designation. For more information see SPIE.

Burrell awarded SPIE Optics and Photonics Education Scholarship

Burrell_SPIEscholarship_20160707Derek Burrell (ECE) has been awarded a 2016 Optics and Photonics Education Scholarship by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics for his potential contributions to the field of optics, photonics or related field.

Burrell is an Electrical and Computer Engineering undergraduate student at Michigan Technological University working toward a BS in electrical engineering with a concentration in photonics. He has academic and industrial experience in the fabrication and testing of optical interconnects, design of photometric simulations and creation of light-based models for virtual reality systems. His research interests include telecommunications, digital image processing and materials characterization. The scholarship will provide $3,000 toward tuition and research funding for the 2016-2017 academic year. Derek is the current president of the Michigan Technological University SPIE Student Chapter.

Burrell was also recently selected by Michigan Space Grant Consortium (MSGC) for a $2,500 research fellowship that will begin Fall 2016 and concentrate on free-space optical communications.

Derek plans to pursue an MS in optical engineering after graduation.

For more information regarding the 2016 scholarship awards see SPIE.

STEM & M (music)

Performing with Steve Jones & The Garden City Hot Club

Just for fun, I thought I would write about music this week.

As most of my friends and acquaintances know, music has always been a big part of my life. I started classical piano lessons at age 6, learned about jazz in high school, and have been a semi-professional musician on the side all my adult life. I play keyboards in a variety of styles – jazz, popular, salsa, blues – and have a great time doing it. Oddly enough, I have found as many opportunities to play publicly in the tiny little communities of Houghton and Hancock as I have anywhere I have lived!

A lot of people I meet say something like, “wow, that’s so unusual, you can be both an engineer and a musician!” Actually, it’s not that unusual at all. I know a lot of engineers, especially electrical engineers, who have music as a hobby. On the back cover of the latest edition of the The Circuit, our alumni magazine, there is a photo taken at the annual Christmas party of seven ECE faculty members who are also musicians (plus one student, a drummer who was there at the time and who just graduated and took a job with Black & Veatch.) I think there is a natural connection between the two. Electrical engineers have a natural affinity for concepts like signals, systems, frequency, harmonic analysis, etc. and so we “get” a lot of the physics of sound and the organization of music. The craft of music is rather abstract, and a bit mathematical, and we engineers like that stuff. In academics, we are all performance artists in the classroom anyway, so getting over our stage fright and hamming it up come naturally.

It is reasonable to ask, did the engineering influence the music or was it the other way around? In my case, I did well in both piano lessons and in math as a young boy, and as I got into electrical engineering in college, I realized that a lot of concepts I was seeing in communication theory and related courses were a piece of cake, because of that musical training.  So I think in my case the music really did have an influence on the path I chose professionally, and it is no accident that I went into signal processing as my technical area of expertise. On the other hand, we have the example of Tim Schulz, our former chair and dean who, after coming back into the ECE Department as a regular faculty member, decided to take up guitar as the first musical experience of his life. He has taken to it like a fish to water, and is loving every minute. So, I suppose it goes both ways.

I am writing about this not just to toot my own horn (no pun intended), but rather to make a point about the importance of performing arts in K-12 education. I love art and music so I am perfectly happy with the notion of ars gratia artis, that is, arts education is valuable in and of itself. However, even if one were to push singlemindedly for STEM education because of its importance to our national economic development, I would still claim that arts education cannot be overlooked.  There is something about the training that goes along with learning music that enhances the mind and opens it up to math and science.  Students who practice their instruments 30 minutes or an hour a day learn the discipline they need to master other academic fields. By participating in band and orchestra they learn teamwork and cooperation, and in a beautiful way they also learn the value of diversity because of the way all the different instruments contribute to the whole. Perhaps most importantly, performing arts gives young people the opportunity to learn how to do something specific and concrete, and to demonstrate that they have mastered their skills in a public performance. The self-image and the confidence that goes along with that is invaluable. (The same argument can be applied to athletics, and I can see that too.) Engineering students don’t get a chance to do that until much later. So, I will always stand behind music and arts education as an important piece of STEM education.

Have a wonderful 4th of July weekend everyone! Get out there and support your local musicians!

– Dan

Daniel R. Fuhrmann
Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University

ECE Hosts SYP’s Women In Engineering Week

WIE participants learn soldering skills in the ECE teaching lab for their take-away Drawdio projects.

Fridays with Fuhrmann, June 24, 2016

This week Michigan Tech is hosting our Women in Engineering program, part of our larger Michigan Tech Summer Youth Programs. WIE is a high school program that brings young women with an interest in science and engineering to campus, and gives them a chance to investigate a variety of engineering careers across all disciplines. Participants work in teams on interesting and challenging engineering projects, get insight from role models working in industry, learn about the college application process, experience college life, and enjoy team competitions, entertainment, and outdoor activities. As an added bonus this year, the weather has been absolutely spectacular and so our guests get to see what a great place the Keweenaw can be in the summer.

We have about 360 young women coming through ECE Department in this year’s program. ECE Associate Chair Glen Archer organizes things at a high level, and ECE PhD student and soon-to-be graduate Jenn Winikus is in charge of implementing the program and really being the face of the ECE Department for the participants. I thank them both for their hard work and outstanding efforts.

I have touched on this in previous columns, but it bears repeating that bringing more women into engineering fields, especially electrical and computer engineering, remains an important and perplexing problem. Our undergraduate female enrollment in the ECE Department has hovered around 10% for many years. Recent trends point to a slight increase, but we are nowhere near the percentage of female college enrollment overall, or even in engineering. We spend a lot of time wondering why this should be the case, and what we can do about it.

The first question that one unfamiliar with our field might ask is, are young women scared off because they cannot handle the rigors of an electrical engineering education? The answer to that is an unequivocal no, and in fact the suggestion of such a thing would be considered offensive around here. There is no evidence to suggest that women are any less capable in math, science, and engineering topics and engineering design skills than their male counterparts, in fact all of our everyday experience here points to a strong capable group of women making their way through our programs just like the men. They engage in all of our educational and leadership programs and are highly recruited by industry. Some might suggest there is a “confidence gap”, in which women who struggle with the material lose confidence in their ability to overcome obstacles and achieve success. While this can certainly happen, I see it just as often with some of our male students who aren’t getting it and decide to take a different path. Michigan Tech is making a major effort to support students, both men and women, who need a little extra push to be successful in their first year or two and continue in the program. How much we should be doing is a matter of some debate, but on the whole I am supportive of efforts to see our students gain the confidence they need to succeed in our educational programs and enter the engineering workforce.

So, if ability is not the issue, then could it be interest? Some say that women are more interested in the “helping professions”, which might explain the much popularity of programs in biomedical engineering and environmental engineering. Personally, I reject this notion.  What could be more “helping” than providing reliable electrical power to an entire population, providing reliable worldwide communication, developing the technologies that keep our soldiers safe abroad and our citizens secure at home, or designing a wide array of products for the audio and visual entertainment? Perhaps we need to work harder to educate everyone on all the ways that electrical and computer engineers have helped humanity. Even as you read this, you are taking advantage of technology developed over the past decades by thousands of electrical engineers, and as you walk away from your computer and turn to other activity, chances are you are going to pick up something else that has ECE fingerprints all over it. We help, we really do!

Maybe there is something about the profession itself that women find unattractive. This, outside of just not knowing what the opportunities are, is the argument that makes the most sense. It is true that electrical engineering (and mechanical engineering too) are fields that are dominated by men. Young women surveying that landscape simply may not see a place for themselves and their future. Women can look at biologists, doctors, or biomedical engineering, and easily project themselves into those professions because there is so much parity already. The workplace environment just looks so much more inviting in those fields. Stories about the “brogramming” culture in Silicon Valley don’t help much either. There is plenty of work to be done to make sure that our workplaces and our educational institutions are places that are welcoming to all, and a little extra effort is needed in electrical engineering to make that obvious, as it should be, when it comes to women.

It comes down to a chicken and egg problem – the fields of electrical and computer engineering need to attract more women, and the way to do that is for the fields of electrical and computer engineering to have more women in them. While we continue to struggle to reach a “tipping point” in this regard, we do what we can, like hosting the Women in Engineering program and diversifying the concentrations in our educational programs. More importantly, we need to be vigilant in maintaining a constant awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion, and I am beginning to realize that inclusion is the more important piece of the two. It is not enough to bring people with a variety of gender and ethnic backgrounds into the organization; all people must feel like that are part of the inside group, making decisions and being responsible for the success of the organization. I see that here at Michigan Tech and I am certain it is an issue in engineering workplaces nationwide. This is an area where I will push for change as long as I am ECE chair at Michigan Tech.

Speaking of which – and I’ll close with this – last week I signed my reappointment letter which keeps me in this position for four more years (I have one year remaining in my current term, and will start a new 3-year term in 2017.) I look forward to serving Michigan Tech and the ECE Department, and continuing to share my experiences with you.

– Dan

Daniel R. Fuhrmann
Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University

Oliveira gives invited talk at Federal University of Bahia-Brazil

ECE Associate Professor Aurenice Oliveira

Aurenice Oliveira (ECE) gave an invited talk at Federal University of Bahia-Brazil (UFBA) on June 13, 2016. Dr. Oliveira talked about possibilities for research collaborations in communications, signal processing, and international education. She also gave an overview of study opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students at Michigan Technological University. Dr. Oliveira had the opportunity to meet with several UFBA officials including the Vice President for Research and the International Office Director to discuss an international agreement between Michigan Tech and UFBA.

New Funding for Detection of Buried and Obscured Targets

Timothy Havens (ECE/ICC), is the principal investigator on a project that has received a $99,779 research and development grant from the U.S. Department of Defense-Army Research Office.

Joseph Burns (MTRI) and Timothy Schulz (ECE) are co-PIs on the project “Multisensor Analysis and Algorithm Development for Detection and Classification of Buried and Obscured Targets.”

This is the first year of a potential three-year project totaling $1,066,799.

From Tech Today, by Sponsored Programs.